Saudi Professional League: Al Hilal and Bafetimbi Gomis build momentum, Christian Gross in firing line

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Christian Gross (EPA).

Saudi Professional League champions Al Nassr must pick-up the pace in match-week 18 after they lost yet more ground to leaders Al Hilal.

Rui Vitoria’s troops, surprisingly, made it two draws in a row when they hosted bottom-placed Al Fateh, while their pacesetting Riyadh rivals swept past Al Raed. Elsewhere, pressure still continues to be exerted on Al Ahli Jeddah boss Christian Gross in spite of his depleted side rallying late on to down Ettifaq 3-2.

Here are the best three fixtures of the round:

AL FAYHA V AL HILAL (19:30, THURSDAY)

A sense of unstoppable momentum surrounds Hilal at present.

Razvan Lucescu’s men hold a three-point lead domestically and kicked off their AFC Champions League defence on Monday with a consummate 2-0 triumph versus Iran’s Shahr Khodrou in Dubai.

Fuelled by ex-France centre forward Bafetimbi Gomis’ goals and inspired by Italy playmaker Sebastian Giovinco, they’ve won eight of their last 10 matches in all competitions – scoring 26 and conceding nine.

Bafetimbi Gomis (c) (EPA).

Bafetimbi Gomis (c) (EPA).

A mini-revival at imminent opponents Fayha, created by the winter addition of Chile creator Carlos Villanueva from Al Ittihad, was halted by 4-2 defeat at Al Hazem last Friday.

Hilal have failed to win two of their last four clashes with 10th-placed Fayha. They may also rotate ahead of Monday’s continental date with Arabian Gulf League leaders Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, while they must now be wary of the threat posed by the host’s emergency striker signing Faneva Ima Andriatsima – a scorer of five goals in 11 matches for promoted Abha.

Memories of the 5-1 thrashing handed out at Al Majma’ah Sports City in January, however, remain fresh. A repeat cannot be ruled out.

Prediction: Al Fayha 0-3 Al Hilal

AL SHABAB V AL NASSR (19:25, FRIDAY)

Neighbours in search of that winning feeling meet in the capital this weekend.

Abdulrahman Al Obaid’s thunderbolt versus Al Sadd during midweek saw him become the first Nassr player other than lethal Moroccan striker, and new father, Abderrazak Hamdallah to net since January 10. This was, though, in a 2-2 ACL stalemate – their third in a row in all competitions.

Abderrazak Hamdallah (c) (EPA).

Abderrazak Hamdallah (c) (EPA).

Friday’s hosts are also reeling from Al Faisaly ending a six-match unbeaten run in all competitions. A famous victory against the champions is required to reboot the charge to attain continental football by the time Argentina star Ever Banega arrives next season.

Saudi Arabia midfielder Abdulmajeed Al Sulaiheem should be eager to impress. Nassr have been reported as suitors for 2020/21.

Prediction: Al Shabab 1-2 Al Nassr

AL WEHDA V AL AHLI JEDDAH (21:25, FRIDAY)

An end appears in sight for Christian Gross.

Internal tumult and open criticism has surrounded the Swiss, enduring – rather than enjoying – a third spell in charge of the Jeddah giants. A brace of late goals from Youcef Belaili salvaged a 3-2 win versus Ettifaq last week and, reportedly, saved his job.

In the absence of the injured Algeria wizard and ‘Syrian Ibrahimovic’ Omar Al Somah they were, however, pegged back at the UAE’s Al Wahda in midweek Asian action.

And still, Ahli sit third in the SPL – only five points off top. The 65-year-old ex-Tottenham Hotspur boss is averaging 2.13 points per game.

Youcef Belaili (l) (EPA).

Youcef Belaili (l) (EPA).

What more could he, realistically, be doing? Especially with Brazil defensive midfielder Josef Da Souza also sidelined.

Wehda have tailed off in 2020 after a sensational start to Jose Daniel Carreno’s reign. Their residual threat is exhibited by excellent French forward Youssouf Niakate’s two goals and an assist in Friday’s 4-0 demolition of promoted Abha, while SPL favourite Elton is settling into his new home.

Ahli need to be sharp. Or Gross may, finally, be sacked.

Prediction: Al Wehda 1-1 Al Ahli Jeddah

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